The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

WSU looks to rebound in rematch with former quarterback

Fresh off loss No. 1, the Cougs are looking to take down former QB Jayden de Laura and Arizona
WSU mascot Butch T. Cougar rides out at the beginning of the fourth quarter during an NCAA football game against Oregon State, Saturday, September 23, 2023 in Pullman, Wash.

WSU went into their fifth game of the season at UCLA at 4-0 and ranked No.13, they now enter week seven 4-1 and ranked No. 19. Responding to the loss in front of the home Coug fans is all that is on the agenda.

“Teams don’t stay the same. They either grow or get better, which one do we want to do? So we have an option and we’re gonna need to get better to handle the slate of the week-to-week in this conference,” head coach Jake Dickert said. “You really kind of feel the winds of change, and we’re attacking the new mission.”

The overarching storyline is the return of former QB Jayden de Laura to the Palouse. The Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year transferred to UA following off-the-field issues and the transfer of now-WSU QB Cam Ward.

The Cougs and Wildcats played in 2022 for the first time following the transfer, a 31-20 WSU win. The game, however, was in Arizona and saw Ward throw for 193 yards and one touchdown, and de Laura throw for 357 yards and one touchdown but also four interceptions. 

This year, de Laura returns to Pullman, but he might not start. His health is still up in the air due to a calf injury that has kept him out of the Wildcat’s last two games, according to Rotowire. On top of that, backup freshman QB Noah Fifita has shined in his absence, casting doubts on de Laura’s playing time regardless of injury.

“I don’t know how you don’t play [Fifita],” Dickert said. “This guy has been as efficient and as effective as anybody in the country the last two weeks. He is operating that offense at a really really high level.”

Fifita has thrown for a combined 535 yards and eight touchdowns with just two interceptions in two near upsets of top-10-ranked Washington and USC. Dickert said they will prepare for both QBs, but regardless, UA is a very dangerous team.

“Arizona to me, is the most improved team in the [Pac-12]. I’ve watched pretty much every team and I think it’s evident and it’s obvious. The last two results against top-10 teams are no fluke. You might be able to do that one week, but to do it back-to-back weeks, especially on the road against USC, a lot of credit to Jed Fisch and his staff,” Dickert said.

UA, in fact, took USC to a third overtime in a 43-41 loss. And following a tough offensive showing against UCLA, the Cougs will need to reignite the formerly top-five offense to avoid the upset this week.

The good news for WSU, a lot of the problems that led to the loss last week were self-inflicted. From a fumble in the red zone by tight end Cameron Johnson, to another in plus territory by true freshman receiver Carlos Hernandez, the Cougs kept giving away opportunities.

“You win and lose as a team. And there’s ebbs and flows to that too. We’ve had times where we can’t stop a nosebleed and the offense kept scoring and vice versa,” Dickert said. “I thought we were moving the ball in the second quarter but it came to a stop just off a couple mistakes and we got to be a little bit tougher.”

The offense for WSU will unfortunately still be without star slot receiver and team captain Lincoln Victor, who is still dealing with a high ankle sprain. Stating tight end Cooper Mathers also missed the UCLA game with a hamstring injury and is questionable for this week.

History is on the Coug’s side in this one, as the Cougs have won the last three meetings at GESA Field and have not lost to the Wildcats since 2017. The advantage of getting back home this week for WSU is huge, Dickert said.

“To have homecoming here at our place I’m expecting GESA Field to be packed and rocking and be a huge advantage for us. I think you watch a lot of teams in this league and who’s beaten who, a lot of common denominators is who’s at home,” Dickert said.

WSU is 3-0 at home this season. A key outside of reigniting the passing game, however, will be the rushing attack. Against UCLA, the Cougs only gained 12 rushing yards, with leading rusher Nakia Watson only averaging 2.3 yards per carry.

For reference, four yards per carry is considered good. Watson in 37 carries against FBS opponents this season is averaging just three yards per carry, which is shocking considering his 5.3 yards per carry in 2022. While Dickert has referenced toughness and committing to fixing the run game, Watson said the key factor is improving the “trust and chemistry.”

On the defensive side, the Cougs have not been perfect, allowing 25.4 points per game(130th in the country). But they have made enough big plays in key moments to win games, including key turnovers, sacks and red zone holds.

The key to the WSU game plan seems to revolve around the passing game thriving, and the run game and defense doing enough to earn the win. 

The Cougs and Wildcats will face off at 4 p.m. Saturday at GESA Field in Pullman with the Cougs looking to revive their miracle run in the last hoorah of the original Pac-12.

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About the Contributors
LUKE WESTFALL, Evergreen sports co-editor
Luke Westfall is a junior in Broadcast News from Custer, WA. He is an avid fanatic of the many sports at many levels who spends all his available time indulging in them. Luke began working at the Evergreen in Spring 2022.
HAILEE SPEIR, Evergreen photo editor
Hailee Speir is a photographer for the Daily Evergreen. Hailee is a junior English education major from Spokane, Washington. Hailee started working for the Evergreen in fall 2021 as a photographer.